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During a routine check of a watch tower at a U.S. military base in Kuwait, an Army sergeant found the guard leaning back in a chair, his sunglasses on, apparently sound asleep. When the soldier woke the guard, an employee of a defense contractor named Combat Support Associates, he denied he’d dozed off while on duty.
“It’s so weird that I can close my eyes for one second and then you appear out of nowhere,” the guard said, according to the sergeant’s March 2008 inspection report.
The episode illustrates the problems between the U.S. armed forces and the industrial army supporting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Demand for contractor services is heavy, while oversight of their work isn’t. That means problems often aren’t discovered until long after the payments have been made.
A major trouble spot is the business systems and procedures that companies use to bill the government. The numbers are eye-popping. Defense auditors have found at least $6 billion in questionable charges generated by sloppy accounting or, worse, contractors trying to bilk the military.
Yet, the Pentagon has done a poor job of recovering the money and forcing companies to improve, according to the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting. The panel cites dysfunction among auditors and contract managers, a shortage of personnel and a failure to be more confrontational with contractors who don’t measure up.